By Jacob Richards
Labour may like to suggest they have the interests of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged members of society at heart but in reality it appears their policies are more akin to something we would see put forward by the British Conservative Party. In fact much of Labour’s accompanying rhetoric suggests the party is quite content to embrace Tory values.
Let us consider the measures introduced in last weeks’ budget and targeted at young people under the age of 26. In the case of Jobseekers between the age of 22 and 26 the government introduced a flat cut of €44. This means that for those aged between 18 and 24 jobseekers payments will now amount to just €100 a week while those aged 25 will now receive €144. These cuts are cruel and unnecessary in themselves but worse still, they have been accompanied by the most condescending and arrogant rhetoric of government ministers towards young people. Labour in particular have been exceptionally bad offenders. During Leaders Questions last week, the Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore proclaimed, “the best place for any young person is not permanently in front of a flat screen television. It is at work or in education and training.”
In reality such statements are not so far removed from Conservative rhetoric in Britain. Recently Prime Minister David Cameron announced at his party’s national conference that should the Tories win an outright majority in the next general election, jobseekers allowance and housing benefit will be scrapped for all those aged 25 and under. Cameron’s justified this approach by saying that young people should either be “earning or learning” and painting a picture of endemic “welfare dependency” amongst the young. Certainly it would seem Gilmore is following David Cameron’s ideological lead by punishing the young while dressing them as lazy and feckless benefit scroungers.
Yet what appears to be lost on our own Tanaiste is the fact that youth unemployment is staggeringly high in this country at 30%. This equates to approximately 66,000 people under the age of 25 on the live register. The Tanaiste’s response that these 66,000 people should be in employment or education is all the more astounding given this government’s absolutely dire record in job creation and access to education. Regarding jobs, economist Michael Taft says that estimates give a figure of 32 people unemployed for every job vacancy in the country. Besides competing with this huge demand for jobs young people are also disadvantaged by a natural lack of experience. It is just not feasible to expect our youth to be in a position to obtain work given these figures. In fact it is deluded.
Then there is the option of education. Since coming to power, Labour have increased registration fees for third level in Ireland and reduced qualifying thresholds for college maintenance grants.The British Tory party have implemented similar policies in recent years albeit with significantly higher University fees. Yet the consequences are still the same. Instead of making education more accessible to young people we have a situation whereby third-level becomes the luxury of those that can afford it. With university fees in Ireland set to increase to €3000 in 2015 it is a certainty that prospective young students will be less likely to pursue further education.
And so the reality is that while Labour proclaims the virtues of employment and education, they simultaneously implement policies which inflate youth unemployment and remove opportunities for young people accessing further education. They do this while portraying the victims of policies as lazy, welfare dependent scroungers. Talk about defending the most vulnerable members in society! It’s the rhetorical equivalent of kicking someone while there down. Unfortunately the likely outcome of these polices is that thousands more of our youth will soon be booking a one-way flight out of the country. What a sorry legacy for Labour to leave behind…